Anita right after her thyroidectomy. Credit: Anita Hubbard
Anita Hubbard is a papillary thyroid cancer survivor, advocate, and founder of the Love Your Thyroid Foundation. Love Your Thyroid raises funds to support the Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association (ThyCa), a nonprofit advocacy and research group. You can read Anita’s story of her diagnosis, and how she founded the foundation in this article.
We asked Anita what advice she would have for someone who – like she was just a few years ago – has just been diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
I would start by holding their hand and telling them, “I’m so sorry, I know how much this sucks. This will be a scary, confusing, frustrating experience, and it is perfectly okay to feel all those things and more.”
I would encourage them to cope the way they need to, not the way they have been told to cope. Then, I would roll up my sleeves and tell them what I know, most of which I learned from my own missteps.
1. This is NOT a good cancer.
If any medical professional tells you that thyroid cancer is the “good cancer,” you need to seek treatment and advice elsewhere. If family and friends tell you that, respectfully educate them that it is not. Don’t let anyone dilute this for you.
2. You don’t know what you don’t know.
You have to dive deep into this disease to really understand it, but educate yourself beyond the written word. Speak to and meet with fellow thyroid cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers. So much can be learned from people who have walked this path before you. ThyCa is a fantastic resource for this type of networking.
3. Relentlessly advocate for your health.
If you don’t feel you can do it alone (as was the case with me!) find someone to help you. Have a second set of loving ears as there will be no way you can process all of the information on your own. Pursue and fight for the best advice, tests, and treatments. Ask too many questions. Document everything—every test result, every opinion given—and keep it organized in a folder or binder with a spreadsheet that summarizes it all for quick reference during your appointments.
4. Finding a good doctor and surgeon is paramount.
Good thyroid surgeons conduct a minimum of 100 thyroidectomies annually. And find an endocrinologist who specializes in thyroid cancer.
5. You won’t look sick, but you will feel very sick.
Thyroid cancer patients may look normal compared to people with other types of cancer, but they don’t feel normal, and they are fighting an invasive, dangerous disease.
6. You may survive thyroid cancer, but you will struggle without your thyroid.
You need to approach this now as a chronic disease. You will now always be a thyroid cancer survivor, and you will need regular monitoring and daily medication to not only replace the critical functions of your thyroid, but also help suppress the recurrence of thyroid cancer.